Blakely's NBA preseason power rankings: Wild West
BACK OF THE PACK
30. PHILADELPHIA – It’s hard to imagine but the Sixers might be worse than last season’s woefully bad 18-win squad.
29. DENVER – Emmanuel Mudiay provides hope for the future. The present? It ain’t pretty.
28. MINNESOTA -- The death of head coach/team president Flip Saunders will take some time for the players to move past.
27. PORTLAND – Damian Lillard is a tremendous talent, but lifting this team to the postseason? That’s Mission Impossible stuff right there.
26. BROOKLYN – Owners of Brooklyn’s first-round pick this season, no one will revel in the Nets’ struggles this season like the Celtics.
25. SACRAMENTO – Who will implode first? Rajon Rondo? George Karl? Or DeMarcus Cousins? Because it is going to happen.
TRAILING THE PACK
24. CHARLOTTE – Overcoming the loss of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for this season will keep the Hornets on the outside of the playoff bubble, looking in.
23. NEW YORK KNICKS – They have decent NBA players. The bad news? They’re hurt too often.
22. DETROIT – A big man who does little more than dunk the basketball. Uh, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy … haven’t you seen this flick before?
21. DALLAS – The Mavs did an admirable job of bouncing back from the DeAndre Jordan mess, but there are too many holes and not enough Dirk Nowitzki’s around to fix it.
20. LOS ANGELES LAKERS – Kobe Bryant should be good to go to start the season for the Lakers, but does a 37-year-old Kobe make them a better team?
19. ORLANDO – Between Tobias Harris, Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo, this is the year one of them has to emerge as a go-to, all-star type of player.
MIDDLE OF THE PACK
18. PHOENIX – This may be Eric Bledsoe’s team, but the sooner they figure out how to use T.J. Warren effectively, the sooner they will take that next step and get into the playoffs.
17. INDIANA – Fans will love a Pacers team that can score more points now. But can do that AND continue to be one of the league’s most consistent teams defensively?
16. TORONTO – Every season there’s a team near the top that drops inexplicably from the previous season. I’m putting my money on the Raptors to be that team.
15. UTAH – Gordon Hayward has all-star talent, but the development of Rudy Gobert from being a shot-blocking stud to an elite, all-around defensive pest will get the Jazz back in the playoffs.
14. BOSTON – No superstar to speak of, the Celtics will look to wear down opponents on a nightly basis.
13. MIAMI – It won’t happen this year, but look for the Justise Winslow to be Dwyane Wade’s heir apparent to superstar status in south beach.
RUNNING WITH THE PACK
12. CHICAGO – Joakim Noah coming off the bench just one of many changes by first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg.
11. NEW ORLEANS – Tyreke Evans undergoing another knee surgery will stunt to some degree the growth of the Pelicans this season.
10. MEMPHIS – One of the most under-rated teams in the NBA, the Grizzlies will continue following the lead of ex-Celtic Tony Allen and grind out wins.
9. WASHINGTON – Sources in Washington say the player to keep an eye on this season is Otto Porter.
8. ATLANTA – Even with four all-stars back, losing DeMarre Carroll will take a couple different Hawks to step up and fill that void.
7. MILWAUKEE – Good team, solid coaching and a front office committed to winning. Still have lessons to learn before they become a top-flight, title contender.
LEADERS OF THE PACK
6. OKLAHOMA CITY – Billy Donovan takes over an extremely talented team, led by an extremely motivated 1-2 punch in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
5. HOUSTON – James Harden has elevated his play in recent years. The next step for him? Elevate the play of those around you.
4. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS – Paul Pierce is home, playing for his all-time favorite coach in Doc Rivers, and the Clippers will once again be one of the last teams standing.
3. CLEVELAND – Between injuries, illnesses and contract-itis, it’ll take a little time for the Cavaliers to really start rolling along.
2. SAN ANTONIO – No team had a better summer than the Spurs who have experience, talent and motivation to get back to the Finals.
1. GOLDEN STATE – Stephen Curry remains the man on this team, but the evolution of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will go far in determining if these guys can repeat.